Johannesburg - Newly crowned South African Elite women’s road race champion Ashleigh
Moolman Pasio claimed her first ever victory at the Cape Argus Pick n
Pay Cycle Tour on Sunday. But it was a victory marred by the horrific
finishing sprint crash that took down and injured all three of her
Momentum Toyota team-mates.
Just eight days after claiming the national championship title in
Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, Moolman Pasio lined up with more than 35 000
other cyclists in the pre-dawn darkness in the centre of Cape Town,
Western Cape. Her new white, green and gold South African championship
jersey still crisp and her slim shoulders carrying the pressure of
The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour is a 110km race around the scenic
Cape Peninsula, starting and finishing in Cape Town, a city that shuts
its streets and highways on the second Sunday of March each year to host
the world’s biggest road cycling race. Also riding the event were
international cycling legends and former Tour de France winners, Stephen
Roche, Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx, as well as South African
politicians Fikile Mbalula, the Minister of Sport and Recreation and
Hellen Zille, the Premier of the Western Cape.
The feared south easterly wind that’s crushed many a spirit and
scuppered many a personal best time in this race before was conspicuous
by its absence and the clear skies and hot sun made for perfect racing
conditions for the early starters.
The Elite women started at 06:30 along with the Racing Veteran Men
(40-49 years) and the Racing Master Men (50-59 years). With so many
riders to accommodate, batches numbering between 200 and 600 are set off
every few minutes. As a result it’s become virtually impossible for the
Elite women to race in their own bunch without getting caught – or
catching – male riders, which causes on-the-road mayhem.
The result was a huge starting pack of more than 200 riders – super-fit
veteran and master men, many of them former professionals and South
Africa’s best females and a few internationals. This format favours the
stronger women as the race becomes less about tactics and more about
being able to hold onto the front men. For the leading women this wasn’t
a problem as they regularly race with the veteran men. Despite numerous
attacks throughout the race, which has a moderate total ascent of just
over 1000 metres, a large lead pack remained intact for the approach to
the finish along Cape Town’s world famous coastline.
Three collarbone breaks in the space of 18 months gave Moolman Pasio the
wisdom to stay out of trouble, opting to accept the challenge of the
additional effort required to venture outside the shelter of the huge
bunch and ride near the front for most of the race. Ultimately, it was
this approach that gave her the perfect position from which to launch
her finishing sprint.
In the final flat kilometre the huge pack spread virtually across the
entire width of the broad road, fuelled by a mixture of adrenaline and
testosterone and motivated by the possibility of a podium finish in one
of three categories.
As the static finish line TV camera focused on the front women, Moolman
Pasio and Great Britain’s Catherine Williamson (Team bizhub FCF), a
rider in the background hit the tar with force and created a dramatic
domino-like effect that saw more than 20 riders crash, including Moolman
Pasio’s Momentum Toyota teammates, Cherise Taylor, the defending
champion, Robyn de Groot and Joanna van de Winkel.
Oblivious to the devastation behind her, Moolman Pasio punched the air
in jubilation as she realised she’d won South Africa’s most popular
race, ousting Williamson by more than a bike length and adding yet
another significant domestic race title to her growing, glowing, CV.
“I didn’t even hear the crash behind me. I was so focused on the finish
line and there was a lot of usual finish line sounds like music and
commentator and crowd noise. It was terrible to hear shortly afterwards
about the crash. A truly bittersweet victory for me,” said the
26-year-old, who heads to Europe on Friday to join the Belgian based
Lotto Belisol team.
“This race in particular is always a race where safety is an issue. But
the fact that there wasn’t much wind, not much climbing and three
categories all racing for podiums made it even more dangerous. I could
feel the tension in the bunch early on and decided to rather ride near
the front and avoid any potential problems,” she explained.
Taylor, De Groot and Van de Winkel were all taken to hospital. Taylor
(neck and shoulder strain) and Van de Winkel (water on the knee) were
both discharged after being treated, while De Groot, who has at least
one broken rib, will spend night in hospital for observation.
“Any one of us could have won today. There was a strong veteran behind
Cherise and I was on his wheel in the last couple hundred metres. When
he kicked for the line, I was perfectly positioned and we moved around
her. It turned out to be good timing. I’m sad for my teammates, but I’m
happy to have gone one better than last year and won this race,” smiled
Moolman Pasio clocked a winning time of two hours 52 minutes and 24
seconds. Williamson was given the same time for her second place with
former South African and African champion, Lynette Burger (Cycle Lab
Toyota Academy), rounding out the podium places in third. Sweden's
Jennie Stenerhag and South Africa's An-Li Pretorius (MTN Qhubeka) were
fourth and fifth respectively.